A data center relocation project is never easy. But consider this scenario: To move its data center, one company had to send 10 IT professionals to an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on New Year's Eve, even though its data center move is only the length of a football field.
That was the challenge for Lexington, Mass.-based VistaPrint. The commercial printing company's data center is in a hosting environment with Cable & Wireless, in Bermuda. But its needs had exceeded its available space, and the company had to move to a new location within the same building. And it had to do so with minimal disruption. Aside from Christmas Day, New Year's Eve was that time.
"We were constrained," said Jim Sokoloff, VistaPrint's senior director of IT operations. "The space we were in was completely full, we were down to 3U of space out of dozens of racks."
The data center relocation plan and checklist
But the data center move project didn't begin and end on New Year's Eve. According to Sokoloff, the company's overlapping teams traveled to the hosting facility as early as Dec. 27 and departed on staggered dates as well. The networking team arrived first and set up cross-connects between the old data center and the new location. This enabled VistaPrint to complete some of the data center relocation – moving its Web servers, for example – before New Year's Eve without incurring downtime.
The planning began even earlier. VistaPrint had to arrange with Cable & Wireless to ensure that it could relocate its data center on New Year's Eve. They had to enlist extra security at odd hours for three nights in a row. "They gave us all the support we needed," Sokoloff said
Then VistaPrint had to plot the path of the data center move: about 100 yards, through four doors and down a set of stairs. It had to ensure that all the doors would be propped open and that there would be metal ramps over each of the door thresholds, so that the heavy IT equipment could roll easily.
Staff marked ports that were unused. So, on the day of the move, staff wouldn't have to worry about whether a cable should be plugged into an unsued port.
The day of the data center move
On Dec. 31, the data center shut down at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time. Ten hours later, it was back up. A 10-hour window of data center downtime may seem like no big deal, but being able to account for everything – the servers, networking equipment, cabling (and ensuring that everything was plugged into the correct ports), as well as all the storage devices and disks – was no small task.
First VistaPrint had to shut down cleanly. There were whiteboards with checklists, and every employee knew which equipment they had to help move. Staff members in both the old and new data centers worked off laptops to communicate with one another via instant messaging.
In addition to on-site employees, VistaPrint had about seven other stafffers in Massachusetts overseeing the virtual private network (VPN) environment, troubleshooting, ensuring that database applications were back up and running, and conducting online testing to confirm that everything was in order.
Considering the complexity, the move went smoothly. A couple of disks wouldn't start back up, but they had backups. As Sokoloff put it, "whenever you shut down 1,000 disks, you can't expect them to all come back up." There was also one Fibre Channel storage networking cable that was damaged or incorrectly installed, so it was replaced.
Advice for the data center relocation project newbie
Along the way, Sokoloff and the rest of the IT crew at VistaPrint learned lessons about a proper data center relocation. Here's a short list:
- Separate network move from server move. Sokoloff said his networking team was happy to first troubleshoot core networking issues in the new data center. They could also test unlikely scenarios without having to worry about company downtime.
- Send a team ahead of time. It seems like a detail, but knowing that they would have to prop open four doors and set up ramps over thresholds was a big deal. "You need to see the height of the thresholds between doors because the carts don't like to hop over them," Sokoloff said.
- Be ready to spend money. VistaPrint bought an extra frame for its EMC storage area network device simply because the component that includes the frame and battery pack was too heavy and would consume too much downtime to unrack and rack back up. "It's the last thing you take out and the first thing you put in," Sokoloff said. VistaPrint also dropped around $5,000 at Home Depot for the move: carts, straps, door wedges, ramps, drills, and so on. Sokoloff again: "You need to be willing to spend money on peripherals."